Published on March 7th, 2012 | by Thompson0
Love is an Inescapable Memory Trap
Love is an inescapable memory trap, and you need only read Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way to realize this. All of the prominent male characters, Swann and Marcel, are trapped in love through their memories, but fail to realize that they, and not the female characters, are springing this trap.
Swann’s relationship with Odette is a perfect example of this memory trap, for Swann is not in love with Odette, but the ideal representation of Odette he’s created in his mind. Swann has created a monster in his mind, endlessly tormenting him. “And this disease which was Swann’s love had so proliferated, was so closely entangled with all his habits, with all his actions, with his thoughts, his health, his sleep, his life, even with what he wanted after his death, it was now so much a part of him, that it could not have been from him without destroying him almost entirely: as they say in surgery, his love was no longer operable” (320). This misrepresentation of the woman he thinks he loves is the “inoperable” illness Proust is referring to.
A few year’s ago, in a drunken, love stupor, I wrote a somewhat poetic piece called LOVE never thinking I’d ever have reason to call upon it again, but my hopelessly romantic leanings are apparently more prevalent than originally imagined. Proust is adamant that Swann’s affliction is an addiction of sorts – a self-inflicted illness. And the only cure is to submit, for even after amputation the memory continues to haunt us.
Marcel creates an image of everything ideal about Gilberte, omitting the undesirables. He overlooks her coquettishness and remembers only that she likes Marcel on her team. He cherishes a marble she gives him, though she obviously enjoys her time away from Marcel. Despite Swann’s years of wisdom, he makes the same mistake as Marcel. He is tormented by Odette’s recreational activities, but looks past this time spent away from Swann to preserve the Odette he’s created in his mind. Even when Swann notices Odette becoming less attractive, he simply remembers the Odette he loves, the misrepresented memory image that’s two years younger, thinner, and more affectionate. I can honestly say I’ve never been in love with a woman, but have many times been in love with an idea my mind has created to represent the woman. And you can’t kill an idea. Why do men do this to themselves? Are we all just hopeless romantics afraid of being alone? Are they Freudian images that resemble the ideal qualities of our mothers? Does creating the memory image give us a reason not to leave the woman we supposedly love?
Frankly, I don’t know what’s behind these memory images, but I do know the memory can be an overwhelming force, and perhaps these ideal images simply manifest. I remember my last relationship vividly, and before I even knew the name of the woman, I had created an image of what I thought she could be having heard her laugh and seeing her smile. I had created a monster, and when the woman didn’t conform to the monster I had created, I shrugged it off and simply remembered that she couldn’t possibly be anything but what I had created in my head. Then, like Swann, I realized the folly of my ways when the woman was in no way what my mind had created, but my love for that image persists.
Though Proust’s tone is certainly romantic, I can’t help but agree with Dustin that there’s an obvious realist or even materialistic undertone. It seems almost anytime love is mentioned, the word “possession” is soon to follow. The male characters in Swann’s Way share a possessive view of love, which isn’t all too surprising given the leisurely lives everyone seems to lead. Swann is paying 4,000 francs a month with the hope of possessing Odette. I’m convinced that Proust is making a valid point about love and capitalism – it doesn’t work. When a relationship becomes a transaction it’s difficult to keep the relationship going because we always want more bang for our buck. Love does not flourish where cash is king.